With the Cardinals' 4-2 victory over the Red Sox on Thursday night, the World Series heads to St. Louis for Game 3 on Saturday with the two combatants tied at one game a piece. Of the previous 104 best-of-seven World Series (four early Series were best-of-nine), 53 were tied heading into Game 3. The winner of that game has won the championship 38 times, good for a .717 winning percentage.
That trend is even stronger since the start of divisional play in 1969. In that time, there have been 18 World Series that were tied after two games, and the winner of Game 3 has gone 16-2 (.889) in those Series. That's a fairly amazing record given that, even after winning a Game 3 tiebreaker a team still has to beat its opponent two more times to win the championship.
The two teams in the divisional-era that have pulled the trick were the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates, who climbed out of a 3-1 hole to beat the Baltimore Orioles in seven games, and the 2003 Florida Marlins, who lost Game 3 to the New York Yankees but didn't lose another game in that series, winning the championship in six games. Prior to the Marlins, the last loser of a Game 3 tiebreaker in the World Series to come back and take the title in less than seven games was the 1951 Yankees, who did it to the crosstown Giants.
Such history doesn't mean that Saturday's Game 3 will decide this year's Series, but it certainly paints that game as an especially crucial one. One theory as to why that is the case, particularly in recent years, is that, with four-man postseason rotations, the Game 3 pitching matchup typically repeats in Game 7, and the outcome of that matchup in Game 3 is a strong indicator of the same outcome in Game 7. Indeed, the two times this century that a Series tied after two games went the distance, the same pitcher lost both Game 3 and 7: the Rangers' Matt Harrison against the Cardinals in 2011 and the Giants' Livan Hernandez against the Angels in 2002.
However, just three of the last 11 series to start off tied 1-1 even got to seven games. Of the eight that didn't, four saw the Game 3 winner roll to a five-game victory: the 1983 Orioles, 1984 Tigers, 2006 Cardinals and 2008 Phillies. Those three most recent teams all opened with a split on the road then swept three home games to take the title. That's something St. Louis is in position to do again this year, however unlikely it might seem at this point in the Series. This year's World Series looked very evenly matched before Game 1 and it looks just as close now that it is tied 1-1 heading to St. Louis. History shows, however, that such a balance often tips in Game 3.